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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Airbus admits mistakes in management of new A380 technology

Airbus admits mistakes in management of new A380 technology

Airbus CEO Tom Enders says a lack of sufficient design controls when using new technologies ultimately caused the cracked wings on the A380.

"We thought we understood the properties of the materials and the interface between carbon fibre and metal and found out the wrong way we didn't know everything,” he stated. Enders admitted that the manufacturer did not have the necessary controls in place to anticipate potential mistakes.

Adding to Enders comments, EVP programmes Tom Williams said “assumptions” about an aluminium material used were made during ground testing of the airframe, because it had been used on other programmes. Other assumptions were made in the modelling techniques employed, he said.

Harsh lessons will be learned. The manufacturer is to review the A380 delivery schedule for this year, saying that the current target of 30 could be a “challenge”. Airbus estimates that the cost of fixing existing A380 wings will reach €260m in 2012, and it will continue to have responsibility for these costs in the years ahead as the company revealed a permanent fix will only come on aircraft delivered from 2014 onwards. “I'm quite sure the A380 will survive this, as other aircraft programmes have in the past, but it costs the company dearly in money, and I'm afraid also in reputation,” Enders said.

While the details of the cause of the cracks are now known – with the use of a relatively inflexible aluminium alloy to make the wing brackets, the method in which fasteners are put through holes, and the stresses generated during assembly blamed – a redesign of the wing still needs to be finalised and approved by the European Aviation Safety Agency. But this design is only expected to become part of the manufacturing process in mid-2013, for deliveries in early 2014.

Therefore, up to 120 A380s will be delivered before the permanent fix becomes standard. In the meantime, a short-term fix – which takes five days to implement – will be applied to A380s as they reach a mandated threshold. Roughly a third of the 74 A380s currently in service have already received this fix.

Jason Holland, Editor, Aircraft Technology Engineering & Maintenance


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